Sunday, May 6, 2007

Josh's New and Hot (Week 6) - The Great Ape Debate - and book review...

Click here for the story from the Guardian.

This week's new and hot was mentioned in one of my earlier posts. It seems that primates everywhere are appreciating a surge in interest due to the debates in Europe over their status as humans. This week's headlines have read "Chimps are people too", "They're going ape in Austria", and the charming "Monkey see, monkey sue" referring to the 26 year-old Viennese chimp Hiasl whose supporters are struggling to get his status changed to "human."

Apparently, the animal sancturary where he was living went bankrupt. Since he was stolen from
Sierra Leone in 1982, he is completely unable to live in the wild and thus must live with people who can take care of him. Unfortunately, Hiasl is not an inexpensive ape, costing over $6,800 each month in food and vet bills. Since Austrian law says that only people can receive money, his adopted parent Paula Stibbe, a Briton who teaches English in Vienna, is hoping that lawyer Eberhart Theuer can push his status through court. Unfortunately, many animals rights activists like president of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say, ``I'm not about to make myself look like a fool'' by getting involved. They worry that chimpanzees could gain broader rights, such as copyright protections.

Now I'm not saying that I believe Hiasl should be left to fend for himslef, but it does seem a bit odd to start extending the privileges of humans to animals. This, of course, treads into murky waters since we know that chimps are our closest relatives sharing 99.4
% of our genetic code. Who is to say that if we deny a very close species rights that courts will not take away rights for different races or ethnicities who could be construed as less than 100% similar to the majority.

Evolution doesn't always have to lead to eugenics, but it certainly has the ability to lead into that when we start to remake the way we define "human." Where does one species begin and the other end? If evolution is the gradual change of species over time, at what point in time do we take the snapshot that has the "perfect" chimp or the "perfect" human being? Professor Sommer of University College of London says, "
It's untenable to talk of dividing humans and humanoid apes because there are no clear-cut criteria - neither biological, nor mental, nor social." This is very strange issue for evolution and the Law to collide.

FYI - The picture is of Ronald Reagan in "Bedtime for Bonzo" (The monkey is Bonzo)!

Also, check out my Voyage review here!

1 comment:

chickenpox said...

This is really interesting. In the end I have my doubts as to whether a court will give these kinds of rights to a chimp. Even though genetically, we are very similar to chimps, the prevailing (though perhaps incorrect) notion of humans as being in a class very very different from all other creatures on earth (given our ability to reason, our expression of emotion, use of language, etc.) will probably win out in this instance. I don't think the world is ready as a whole to accept that humans and chimps are that close.